When I go to most churches, even my own, I try to see everything as if I’m a newbie. Most of the time that’s not hard as I travel across the nation. Recently I was in a mid-sized church where the pastor delivered an eloquent sermon on the need for making connections in the church. He told the congregation that there were a plethora of small groups ready to meet almost everybody’s needs and desires. The sermon was actually quite good and I was excited to look through the all the opportunities he’d mentioned.

I looked in the bulletin for a list of upcoming small groups … Nothing.

I looked in the handouts stuffed in the bulletin for a description … Nothing.

I glanced at the walls in the entry hall to find the poster on small groups …  Guess what? Right. Nothing. It was like spending $1 million dollars on an automobile ad only to forget to mention you’re selling a Chevy.

Funny thing, though, I’ve discovered this isn’t uncommon. With all the things church leaders have to deal with, the handoff is an afterthought at best … and a non-thought far too often. The basics of effective communications are just that … they’re basic simple lessons that anyone can apply, but only if you think about it. So, let me remind you of three basic rules to effective communication.

Curley’s Rule

In the movie City lickers, Curley reminded Mitch Robbins that the secret of life was “One thing.”

“…just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t means $#!+.”

“But what is the ‘one thing’?”

“That’s what you have to find out.”

The same is true for effective communication. Stick to one thing. For your church, that one thing is your mission. Everything church leaders say, every word the church prints, and every image the worship team displays has to communicate that one thing. That includes the bulletin, the newsletter, the website, the PowerPoint presentation in worship, and the bulletin boards and posters strewn throughout the church. In the case of the church mentioned above, their mission includes growing in community. Tying the small groups to that mission is a must (and easy to do, in this case).

Curley’s One Thing Rule is just as important in a worship service as well. If the theme of the message is Finding God in the Ordinary, and you’re planning on effectively communicating that message, everything must reflect the theme. Throwing in an announcement about the annual stewardship drive or an upcoming all-church-workday will likely “muddy the waters” of your theme.

The Handoff Rule

This is where the aforementioned church made its biggest mistake … there was no handoff. The pastor wove a wonderfully inspiring message about being a part of a small group but left the congregation with no handoff. If someone actually wanted to be a part of a small group, they would have to become detectives, which is too much work for most newbies (by definition, a newbie would be anyone unfamiliar with the program, which could well be the majority of the congregation in this case).

Here’s the Handoff Rule: If you mention it, provide a handoff.

There are many different kinds of handoffs. In our example, we could have been provided with a bulletin insert that listed all the small groups by topic, by meeting times, or by leader (preferably with a picture of the leader and some sort of contact information so that newbies could connect with them). Or the pastor could have asked all the small group leaders to stand and invited interested folks to see them after worship. Or the small group leaders could have been provided with a table in the entrance hall so guests could meet them and ask questions. Let your imagination go … there are dozens of handoffs you could create and offer.

The point is: if you mention it, make sure there’s a real-life handoff inviting people to be a part.

The Small Print Rule

When I was young, I used to get Highlights magazine. I loved the magazine and every month I’d particularly enjoy the Hidden Pictures feature. You may remember it … Hidden Pictures were the drawings with apparent random objects hidden within the drawing.

Unfortunately, a lot of churches treat their bulletins and newsletters like Highlights’ Hidden Pictures. In some cases, the important handoff information is buried in the midst of “other” stuff. Sometimes there’s simply so much unrelated “stuff” crammed into the bulletin/newsletter that a reader needs an index to find what they’re looking for. And then there are the programs that are treated like magazines with a dozen or more inserts “stuffed’ between the pages.

  • The Small Print Rule is this: Don’t have any.
  • The Small Print Rule is also related to Curley’s Rule. Weigh every word that you consider for the bulletin (newsletter, PowerPoint presentation, website, etc.). If it’s not communicating the One Thing, either delete it, postpone it, or rewrite it.
  • The Small Print Rule has a corollary: Less is more. Twenty-five words is about five words too many for most announcements (said with only a slight exaggeration). Learn to depend on your handoffs. Here are some examples to get you started.
  • Get Connected: There’s a Small Group just for you. Get a brochure from the greeters on your way out. (19 words)
  • Who are we? Find out at the Sunday Morning New Member’s Class. 9 AM in the Fellowship Hall. (18 words)
  • Make a difference where you live. Explore local mission opportunities. Tuesday, 6:30 at Starbucks. Led by Pastor Kelly. (18 words)

If you’ll practice these basics, you can be assured your message, whatever it is, will be effectively communicated … even to us newbies.

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